These novels and novelizers fit well in my poetic landscape. I think it is necessary that poets, those writing poetry, read outside the academic limits of the genre. Poetry accepts tributaries happily, influx from agitated sources. Do I really need to make the case?
- Moby Dick
How Melville brought so many concerns, an entire poetics, together in this novel is a wonder. As Olson for one proves, there is much to be made use of here. I leave it at that.
It took me a while to get past the sale of avant-garde that is attached to this novel. It is a book of good humour (All Ireland Versus the Rest of Ireland) and keen commitment. Do I need to plunge thru the forest of references? I don’t know. The shimmer of Homer behind this works without needing exhaustive implementation. I do not want to use this book so much, it seems wholly Joyce’s castle, but it is a wild and vital experiment to witness. Portrait is a dry, good endeavour, and Finnegans Wake, if you have the energy and time. Maybe the jokey clatter of FW falls awry, I do not know. I do not feel like poring over it like I do with Maximus, The Cantos, A, etc.
- Mrs. Dalloway
I want this book to represent her oeuvre. I think it is her most successful novel (of what I have read), but I think her every practiced experiment is a useful eyeful. The Waves is a tour-de-force, tho with a depressive gloom that is hard to read. To the Lighthouse likewise pulls off a neat experiment, with gloom an integral factor. I found Orlando to be a saggy effort, not sure why. Woolf seems less committed to inherent possibility in Orlando. Further Woolfian plus: her criticism is definitive and urgent.
- Henry James
I cannot really point to one novel, and my favourite works of his are “Turn of the Screw” and “Aspern Papers”, both short (or longish) stories. Yet I think he gives us a lot to consider. Like with Woolf, I think of his entire production as somehow all one. Plot! he sneered. His stories extend provincially, with all those fascinating hems and haws (he chaws more than he bites off, said Clover Adams), then fetches up on denouement about 3 pages from the end. And he did this as a popular writer, at least, as a writer attempting to play that market. I love his dogged energy. No surprise that he suffered writer’s cramp.
- A La Recherche du Temps Perdu
Okay, read it in English, Moncrieff’s version. The first time I read it took maybe 5 years, because I would pick it up, with no sense of commitment to it, and just read for a while, then leave a bookmark in place. Eventually I got caught by its momentum, and read the last half straight thru. The 2nd time I read it took just a week or two, full commitment, carrying it with me, even hauling it when I walked the dog. It has a fascinating (albeit languid) desperation. The so-called attempts to match it do not, don’t you even try. Anthony Powell’s 12-ology, A Dance to the Music of Time, is worth reading, more details from that generation of war torn English writers, but it lacks the comprehensive embrace of Proust. Capote’s Answered Prayers is a hilarious performance in professional grade phoniness. Proust went further than autobiography and cheesy roman a clef, but he never got to meet Merv Griffin.
- Lord of the Rings
Tolkien did the work. It is a great and thrilling story with so much behind it. Alas that the trilogy created a genre full of crap.
- At Swim-Two-Birds
Everything I have read of O’Brien is wild and winning and strange. None is perfect, however, tho this is perhaps his most successful work. Or maybe not, his pyrotechnics here are distracting at times. His is not a wasted talent, despite accusations. Dalkey Archives, The Third Policeman, even the occasional pieces he wrote for the newspaper, all are inventive, and his writing is so sweet.
- Tristram Shandy
The worthiness of this resides in its thoroughgoing resistance to applied form. Sterne rambles. A Sentimental Journey is plain charming, don’t miss it if you can.
- Jane Austen
Another author whose oeuvre I feel I should take as a whole. Her novels flutter in a small area of social compact, but like with James, her conjectures within that realm are expansive and fine. One can see Woolf eying the impossibilities within which Austen lived, and making a contract.
- William Faulkner & F Scott Fitzgerald
I suppose that I am messing with you, Dear Reader. Why tie these two together, and why not identify specific works? you may ask. Both wrote with conjuration, with a glint to public access (both went Hollywood, for instance). Both constructed an area, a place, a time. I do not entirely trust either writer, they wielded their work so publicly, yet I admire the possibilities that they unearthed. As I Lay Dying left me wide-eyed with its black humour, and The Great Gatsby performs its own supple engagement. Fitzgerald ended up a train wreck. His other novels are particularly hopeful for acclaim, but his short stories back up Gatsby. Faulkner dedicatedly returned to Mississippi sweat, and would not let go. I like that impetus.
- War & Peace
The apocalyptic milieu here is hard to beat, and the sight of Napoleon from the other side. The intersection of this world wide plot and Tolstoy’s social concern is instructive. Dostoyevsky deserves mention for an imperative and relentlessness that scorches Tolstoy and most anyone else, but I do not feel strongly enough read in his work to spout off so. Anyway, Anna Karenina bored me for 200 pages then I stopped, I have failed other major works. Madame Bovary did not tickle me as it was supposed to, other books of the ilk left me dry, so that is how I roll.
- Gertrude Stein
1) Is she a novelist, exactly? 2) Isn’t her whole opus worth consideration? Formidable.
- Scarlet Letter
Hawthorne created a moody saxophone trio out of Puritan guilt. That plaintive tone is consistent thru out his writing. Of course, Scarlet Letter is a bit wore out, what with so much study in American high schools, but it still stands. Hawthorne was a claustrophobic soul but his writing was supple and engaged, even as he wrung his hands.
- Patrick O’Brian
I regard the Aubrey/Maturin novels as one very long work. O’Brian did not let plot deter his other excursions. His novels tended to trickle one into the other. It does not come across as a hack bio, as do other series. He places the milieu strongly, ruminates satisfyingly at odd moments and otherwise keeps one interested in the whole of his intrigue. I might liken these works to Tolkien; in both case an instructive approach.
- Huckleberry Finn
I was not impressed the first time I read this. Its episodic nature did not work for me so much. I read it a 2nd time aloud to my mother, when she was losing her eyesight. Twain’s ear, I found, was very good, and the episodes seemed more natural somehow. Whereas Tom Sawyer becomes tiresome in its boyishness, this novel does not lose its keel.
The heading is facetious. I mean only to imply books that are not quite in my productive wheelhouse.
- Magic Mountain
A book about extended lassitude. It may be that this book is no marvel but that it has that alarming image of ghostly Hans Castorp trotting into battle. What a hair raising image after his long years in the sanatorium. Buddenbrooks is immensely depressing, and Joseph and his Brothers is a fascinating and involved exercise (2000 words a day). I feel at some loss regarding all the books not written in English here. I know I miss something in every case.
- P. G. Wodehouse
He wrote thousands of pages about an uncommitted English flake and his overlord butler. One plot will do. The perseverance that that entails is pretty impressive. I lost interest when I learned that he was not just a Nazi sympathizer but a collaborator. It is not like it is news that a novelist, or anyone, can be a dickhead or whatever, but in Wodehouse’s case (or do I mean Bertie Wooster’s case), it proves shattering.
- Jack Kerouac
As I’ve said afore, I like the idea of Kerouac more than the actuality of his writing. He and his subversive collaborators performed a vital service, I am just not that keen in the resultant writing.
Not to overplay this, but this novel tickles some interesting ideas. It has its awkwardness but Shelley at 19 wrote pretty darn well.